As Climate for Health leader and well-known psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren recently explained in our leader spotlight, climate change is having significant adverse impacts on people's psyches. A 2012 report from the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, for which Van Susteren wrote the introduction, estimates that cases of mental and social disorders will dramatically increase as the signs of climate change become more regular, and as more people are personally affected. "Our fast-changing climate has long been identified as a threat to physical health, but more psychologists are warning that the mental health impacts and the economic toll they take are real, likely to spread and need closer study," writes Tyler Hamilton in his article below. The American Psychological Association, one of Climate for Health's partner organizations, believes that climate and environmental psychologists are playing a larger role in the workforce and can take proactive measures to help people live more sustainable lives.
By Tyler Hamilton I February 28, 2016
As a provincial coroner and past palliative care physician, Dr. David Ouchterlony has seen suffering and death up close, experiences that have occasionally led to brief moments of sadness. But Ouchterlony describes such emotions as “trivial” compared to the dread he feels when thoughts about climate change linger, as they often do. He worries almost obsessively about a future he won’t see. How will younger generations be affected? Why are we failing to act on the threat?
“I was completely blind to it, and then five years ago it just hit me,” Ouchterlony, 74, said. “I went through this stage of losing sleep, thinking about my grandchild, wondering what I could do.”
He described the feeling as an “absence of hope” characterized by despair and, at times, exhausting guilt. Some researchers have called it a “pre-traumatic” stress disorder that, in some, is feeding anxiety and depressive thoughts.
Ouchterlony isn’t alone. Signs of mental distress related to climate change have appeared in vulnerable populations, from drought-stricken prairie farmers to isolated aboriginal communities and the scientists who crunch climate data.
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